Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA will accept 4.3 million acres offered by landowners under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. The selections preserve and enhance environmentally sensitive lands, including wetlands, while providing payments to property owners.
"Interest in this open enrollment period was high, and I'm pleased that producers and landowners across the nation continue to realize the environmental benefits of enrolling land in the CRP," says Secretary Vilsack.
For this 39th general sign-up more than 50,000 offers were received on more than 4.8 million acres, nationwide. Enrollment of the 4.3 million acres will keep the program enrollment close to the 32-million-acre statutory cap, which will maintain and enhance the significant environmental benefits the program has already achieved. CRP's 39th signup will bring the total enrollment in the program to 31.2 million acres, leaving sufficient room under the 32 million acre cap to continue enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, continuous signup and other CRP initiatives through FY 2011.
Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings reduce soil and nutrients from washing into waterways, reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Plant cover established on the acreage accepted into the CRP will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff in our nation's rivers and streams. The CRP has restored more than 2 million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduced soil erosion by more than 400 million tons/year.
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: wildlife enhancement, water quality, soil erosion, enduring benefits and air quality. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this signup is 200.
The average rental rate per acre for this signup is about $46. USDA implemented a number of measures including using additional EBI point incentives for producers to submit cost-effective offers, and producer outreach activities to encourage competitive offers on the most environmentally sensitive lands. These measures will maintain the high environmental benefits while decreasing the historic cost of the program.
Under CRP, there are more than 31.3 million acres enrolled on more than 473,000 contracts. These 10-15 year contracts provide long term enduring conservation benefits in return for an annual rental payment.